Dr. Amanda Lucashu had been practicing as a hospitalist physician in Tulsa, Oklahoma for two years when she had an interesting dream. In this dream, a friend suggested that Amanda consider getting a master’s degree – an idea that was not at the top of Amanda’s list, having recently finished medical school and residency and being a mother to her two-year-old son. “What would I get a master’s in? I’m already a doctor,” Amanda replied. In this dream her friend responded, “What about church and medicine?”
Seven months later, Amanda continues to practice medicine in Oklahoma and is well on her way to completing the Certificate in Theology and Health Care through Duke Divinity School. “This program has been the most personally and professionally enriching experience of my life,” she says about the first six months of her time studying with the Theology, Medicine and Culture Initiative (TMC).
Amanda will be among the first to complete the flexible hybrid Certificate in Theology and Health Care (CTHC), a program designed for practicing clinicians, clinicians-in-training, and health care workers who would like to pursue theological formation while continuing to live and work right where they are. It consists of two residential weeks of study at Duke (one in August, one in January) and two semesters of online learning with Duke faculty, during which CTHC students discover the manifold ways that Christian faith matters for health care. While immersing themselves in the study of the Bible, theology, and church history, CTHC students also pray and work with professors, spiritual directors, mentors, and fellow health care workers to discern what it means to practice faithfully in the complicated world of modern medicine.
The hybrid format of the CTHC is what initially appealed to Amanda. “I’m a single mom. I work and love my job and my community. I was not looking to move to Durham but really wanted to be able to engage with these topics. The ability to do something in an online format has been the only thing that’s allowed me to study [at Duke Divinity School].” She was also drawn to the program out of a desire “to have more of a theological background behind what it is that I do and to have my practice be shaped more by my faith. I wanted to have a more robust answer for myself and for others as to why I do what I do.”
That robust answer is taking root in many areas of Amanda’s life. “My faith has grown so much,” Amanda states. “I now have a more unified view of the body, which also has given me a more unified view of the world. I see how literally everything influences my view of God…and how my view of God spills over into how I view medicine. I’m more aware of offering up my practice as worship to God – both my medical practice and my practice of daily life. I’ve also been learning how to interpret and study scripture, which has been key to my being open to what the Spirit is doing in my life.”
In their coursework, CTHC students have engaged with the realities of racial inequality and the ways it affects Christians and the practice of medicine. This work has empowered Amanda to see a primary focus of her practice as embodying “the solidarity that Christ offers to us – being there with my patients and journeying with them.” She was challenged this past fall while caring for an African-American patient whose trust was difficult to gain. “I knew that it was the physician’s job to build rapport, not the patient’s job,” so Amanda changed her approach:
“Instead of walking into the room with the goal of getting him to accept the recommended treatment, I walked in with the goal of developing trust. I was going to be on his side even if he didn’t choose the treatment path I was suggesting. I began to offer my recommendations as a gift; he could accept that gift or not, but either way I was working to build rapport with him, to be with him. Ultimately he didn’t accept my recommendations, but he thanked me, saying “When you get to heaven, you are going to hear the words ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’” My mark of a good physician in that case was not that I got him to accept the surgery that he needed, because he didn’t. My mark of a good physician was that I journeyed with him through that process, that I allowed for his voice to be heard. I still would have liked for him to get the surgery. But I also think that that experience brought a lot of healing to his life, even if he didn’t get as much physical healing as he possibly could.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented Amanda from participating in the immersive week that starts each semester of the program, she nonetheless feels she is part of a community of learners and practitioners. She has enjoyed informal virtual gatherings with fellow students every other week as well as a weekly small group that happens in conjunction with one CTHC course. Sometimes social in nature, other times providing space to process their learning, these meetings have allowed Amanda and her classmates to deepen their friendships in the midst of pandemic isolation. Conversations with new friends such as these has been a significant gift for Amanda within her CTHC experience. CTHC “has awoken within me parts of myself that I didn’t know were there. My friends ask me, ‘What are you thinking about?’ And my thoughts are no longer on what’s next to do on my to-do list. Now I’m reflecting on whatever the last book was that I read, having deep and profound conversation with others in and outside of my classes.”
Juggling motherhood, full-time work and her CTHC studies has been challenging. She remains confident that God’s invitation to her – to anyone considering this program – is to trust that God will carve out the time and the way for the program to be completed in the midst of life’s demands. Participating in the CTHC has not only been the most personally and professionally enriching experience of Amanda’s life; it has also been life changing. “So I guess that comes with a warning: if you don’t want your life trajectory to change, then maybe this isn’t the program for you. But if you are willing to allow the Spirit to alter the trajectory of your life, then I think this program is a great starting place for that.”